Edited highlights from the latest blog post by the Napo General Secretary:-
A resounding ‘no’, was the not altogether surprising answer from the many stakeholders present at the Justice Committee seminar that took place in Parliament last Tuesday chaired by Robert Neill MP. Now Mr Neill is someone whose recent line of questioning of various members of the MoJ high command suggests he isn't exactly convinced about the outcomes of one of his government’s erstwhile flagship policies, and that he has noticed how tawdry the ensigns are looking these days.
As this gathering was held under ‘Chatham House’ rules in order to help the Justice Committee to determine their future work it means that none of what was said can be specifically attributed to anyone present, but a flavour of what any number of those present were describing as a disastrous social experiment was evident in all of the private briefings that had been submitted to the committee beforehand.
The usual suspects in the form of the CRC owners were also there, pleading poverty as a result of the changes in volume bandings and complaining that the MoJ had sold them all a ‘dog’s dinner.’ Interestingly some of them were also using words like unsustainable in this context when painting a pretty desperate forward picture.
I was able to make a couple of fairly robust contributions which focused on two indisputable facts: the first being that its not the fault of our members that the whole TR exercise has been such a spectacularly woeful failure as per the HMI Probation and NAO and Public Accounts Committee findings, and that if it can’t be fixed then the CRC owners should be asked to hand back the keys.
Let us hope that the Justice Committee will be taking a long look at the wreckage and reach the same conclusion.
Prison reform white paper
It was good to receive an invitation to hear the acknowledgement by Elizabeth Truss last week that the increase in violence and self-harm in prisons can no longer be ignored by her government, and what the Minister had to say in relation to these undoubtedly major problems was of course welcome for the most part.
Unfortunately, the whole ethos of the Secretary of State’s speech was predictably focused on reforms within the prison estate as in: ‘drugs, drones, phones’ for the prevention of; as opposed to rehabilitation for the use of. It also meant that the cosy headquarters of the ‘Reform’ think tank and the stage managed questions that, Elizabeth amazingly appeared to have all the written answers to, made it all seem a bit more substantial than it actually was.
The presence of the POA and yours truly sitting alongside each other directly in the Ministers eye line, meant that the Reform host did his level best to ensure that he would take everyone else’s question other than mine. Fortunately I can be a bit persistent, and my simple observation (as the last contributor) that ‘Through the Gate’ had failed and when were the Ministers (for Sam Gyimah was there too) intending to engage with us over the state of the probation reforms? ensured a sense of perspective to an event that hitherto had much mutual back slapping about it.
The answer was a tad predictable too; as in something along the lines of: ‘Yes the role of Probation is intrinsic to these reforms and Ministers will be addressing the issues you have raised in due course.’
The subsequent coverage in many sections of the media during the week welcomed the government’s commitment to prison reform, but pointed out the obvious fact that prisons need to be safe places for both prisoners and staff. How ironic then that HMP Bedford was the scene of some serious (drug and phone abetted) disturbances over the weekend as if to prove the point in graphic fashion
Whilst prisons remain overcrowded and under staffed it will be impossible to implement any meaningful reforms and we intend to continue telling anyone and everyone that the Probation Service should be a direct alternative to custody. That means creating a considered policy on staff recruitment, training and the education of offenders in order to provide a safe and effective prison system that will help to retain staff and reduce incidents including death in custody. This must then be continued in the community upon their release. Hardly rocket science is it?
(It's my understanding that Professor Paul Senior of the Probation Institute was one of those present at the closed session of the Justice Committee last Tuesday - Ed.)